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Check It Out

Courier & Press Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Gifts Wrapped in Rich Prose, Illustrations

Recently I polled EVPL's youth services librarians asking them to share a children's winter holiday book that held special meaning for them. Their responses were just as enthusiastic and heartwarming as they are themselves. Here, then, is our gift to you: remembrances of holidays past with hope for holidays to come.

Christmas literature seems to be rife with curmudgeon-types who, through the course of a tale, learn the true spirit of the holiday season. Three of our librarians' favorite stories fit that description. Charles Dickens and Dr. Seuss seemingly have nothing in common: two vastly different writing styles separated by time and culture, yet Ebenezer Scrooge and The Grinch could be fashioned from the same bolt of Christmas tapestry. While Dickens' A Christmas Carol tells of miserly Scrooge who is changed for the better following the visits of three Christmas spirits, Seuss's Grinch, a creature with a heart "two sizes too small" discovers that even though he steals all the presents and Christmas dinners from the Whos in Who-ville, nothing can damper their holiday joie de vivre. By the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch has reformed with a heart three times its size.

Another, perhaps lesser known character out to spoil Christmas for others, is the collaborative effort of Robert Kraus and Virgil Partch (aka Vip). The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher steals all the colorful cookie sprinkles everywhere. No cookie sprinkles means no special Christmas cookies for the mothers to bake and no Christmas cookies means a sad Christmas for all. "A plucky little kid named Nat" sets out to track down the Snitcher and set him straight. Will Nat succeed? Will he find the sprinkles in time? Don't miss this rollicking story told in rhyme. You'll be repeating the book's refrain for days to come!

In 1963 Peggy Parish created Amelia Bedelia, the endearing young maid of Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. A hard worker, she has just the teensiest of flaws: she takes everything literally. In Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia, Mrs. Rogers forgets that caveat on Christmas Eve and the fun begins. When instructed to make a date cake, Amelia searches for dates and finds instead a calendar. That has dates, she says to herself, so she clips the "dates" and adds them to the batter. "Stuff six stockings for the neighbors' children". Not with trinkets and oranges as you might imagine-but with the stuffing that rightfully belongs inside a turkey! "String on lots of lights". I think you can guess how that ends but 40-watt bulbs never looked so pretty on a Christmas tree!

Ten-year-old singer Gayla Peevey had a Christmas recording hit in 1953 about an unusual item on her Christmas list. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, originally written by John Rox, has now been published in book format with comic illustrations by Bruce Whatley. Santa pushing the bow-clad hippo with all his avoirdupois through a doorway is priceless. Do yourself a favor, find a copy of the recording, grab the book, and sing along. Great, great fun.

The jolly ol' man in the red suit figures prominently in three of our librarians' favorites. Eric Carle, the master of collage artwork, turned his considerable talents to a mood piece, Dream Snow, about a farmer who looks suspiciously like Mr. Claus himself. As the farmer dreams about softly falling snow, acetate overlays show us how the farmer's five animals might look magically transformed by the snow into shapes of beauty. Awakening, the farmer discovers the snow on the ground is for real. A visual delight.

Ever wondered what Santa and the reindeer do AFTER the big trip? Check out Syd Hoff's Where's Prancer? to see what happened one year. It seems once back at the North Pole Santa filled a basket with seven carrots for the reindeer (this was before Rudolph joined the herd, kids). One carrot was left over. So which reindeer was missing? After a quick roll call determined it was Prancer, Santa and the rest of the reindeer took off to find their lost companion. Prancer was finally found in Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love". The reason for staying behind was quite simple and quite touching: to see firsthand (first hoof?) how people looked on Christmas morning as they opened their presents. Looking at the "many happy faces" Santa and the reindeer were glad for their part in spreading joy to all.

English author/illustrator Jon Fearnley Little Robin's Christmas is a sweet story of kindness rewarded. As frosty days approached, Robin washed and ironed his seven toasty warm vests for wearing outside. Each day, though, Robin found another animal that seemed to need the warm clothing more. By Christmas Eve all seven vests were gone and Robin was left shivering far from his nest. Someone was watching Robin and gently scooped him up in his hands. He took Robin home to the missus who knitted a shiny red vest sewn from a thread of the big red coat of the mister. "I'm very proud of gave away all your warm vests to other people. You are full of the spirit of Christmas." Santa truly does see and know all.

Finally, from Mexico comes a legend about one of the loveliest of all holiday symbols. Lucinda's family was so poor that she had no gift to place before the Babe in the manger. An old lady outside the church told Lucinda that "any gift is beautiful because it is given..." Looking around, Lucinda gathered a bunch of the green weeds that grew plentifully. Amid stares and whispers, Lucinda entered the church and placed her gift around the crèche. All watched as the leaves of the plants turned a brilliant crimson, as if each was "...tipped with a flaming red star." Tomie dePaola's evocative folk art shines brightly in The Legend of the Poinsettia.